From time immemorial, man had always felt the compelling need to protect his possessions from the vagaries of weather, as well as disease – causing agents. For instance, the biblical Adam and Eve had to cover their nakedness with leaves, in the Garden of Eden after committing the first sin of disobedience against God. The early man made clothing materials from leaves and animal skins. He used same, in addition to earthen pot and calabashes to store and preserve his food items.
Packaging is therefore, as old as man’s history. It can be simply defined as the use of any form of container in storing, packing, protecting, preserving, presenting, distributing and selling products to the consumer. It also refers to any material used in wrapping and protecting goods from harsh climatic conditions and contaminants. With the coming of modern science, and advances in Technology, packaging has become a sophisticated and specialised field requiring skilled man-power. Businesswise, it is a money-spinner but often neglected by some ignorant investors.
Qualities of packaging materials and their functional efficiencies have both witnessed remarkable improvements since the Industrial Revolution. Good packaging is therefore, essential for all types of consumer items. These include both durable items (like electronic materials) and non-durable like drugs, soap, detergents and of course agricultural products and most processed foods.
Modern man’s changing tastes, increasing preference and demand for consumer items require a variety of skills appropriately provided by modern technology. Thus, the designs and choice of stable, durable, weather-proof packaging materials have aided today’s man in different ways. Packaging is used in effective storage, as material handing tool, a convenience item, a cost-saving device, a preservative, a processing aid and of course, as an effective marketing tool.
This plays a key role in the presentation of food items to the end-user or consumer. It gives the product its unique identity and individuality. For instance, an average Nigerian consumer would always identify the world-famous coca cola soft drink, with the shapely, transparent glass bottle, the lager beer with the green bottle and the tomato puree with the lacquered tin.
Historically, the establishment of packaging industry in Nigeria started way back in 1964 with Bordpak Company, the first manufacturer of corrugate cartons here. Before then goods like beverages, sugar and milk were imported in wooden crates or corrugated cases and cartons by the colonial masters. Premier Industries like Guinness, Tate and Lyle, Lever Brothers and Nigerian Breweries were amongst the first to benefit from Bordpak Company.
Bordpak, based at Apapa later had a three-in-one integrated complex which produced corrugated cartons, folding boxes (light pack), flexible wrappers, labels, laminates and sachets. Also, corner-glued trays, as well as cartons and boxes were also produced for agricultural products like day-old chicks, vegetables, fruits, meat, chicken and eggs.
BPP packaging company also based in Apapa and owned by UAC Nigeria Ltd followed in Bordpak’s footsteps, producing similar packaging items. Its products earned it the name “The packaging specialist” in the Nigerian market.
Today however, Nigeria can boast of well over two thousand of such companies manufacturing a variety of food packaging materials. These include the plastic and glass industries, the well-known Bagco super sack, with durable jute bags, as well as the ubiquitous polythene, cellophane and paper-converter companies.
In physical terms packages can be divided broadly into two categories – the primary ones are those which come into direct contact with the product. Therefore, their chemical and physical compositions must be in health standard conformity and compatibility. Those in this category include cellophane, polythene and paper packages, wrappers, lacquered metal tins, plastic containers, glass jars and bottles. They are used in packaging confectioneries like biscuits, bread and sweets. Others are soft drinks, sugar fruit juices, beer, beverages and evaporated milk.
On the other hand, secondary packages are larger containers used to carry many units of primary packages, ready for transportation and marketing. These include corrugated cartons and crates for specific number of primary packs. For instance, a board paper carton (secondary) is used for 12 bottles (primary) of beer (product). Whereas, a plastic crate (secondary) contains 24 bottles (primary) of Fanta soft drink (product). This catergorisation is however, a general one as there may be instances of both the secondary and primary merging.
In choosing which of the primary packaging material to use for a particular product, certain characteristics of the container or package are normally considered. Glass has the advantage of the balanced forces of compression and tension. It is transparent to light and impervious to contaminants. It also has the beauty of shape. These attributes make it the first choice for marketing soft drinks. However, it has the disadvantage of being easily broken as one has seen several times along major highways when vehicles carrying crates of bottles are involved in road accidents. Its transparency may also be disadvantageous when certain chemicals inside it experience photolysis due to long exposure to harsh sunlight.
Plastic containers have the desired attributes of strength combined with lightness and imperviousness. It gives adequate protection to packaged foods like sugar, evaporated milk and fruit juices. However, it has the disadvantages of low resistance to high temperature, and it reacts with certain food items. Therefore, plastics are hardly used a processing aids. While bottled beer, fruit juices and mineral drinks are subjected to heat during sterilization or blanching of canned fruits and vegetables, same cannot be done with plastics. Some are also not transparent, as with glass bottles which allow for easy identification of products.
Metal tins have the advantages of tensile strength, seal ability, printability, imperviousness and high resistance to heat. They are however, lacquered (layered with a golden chemical reaction) between the packaged food and the tin. Thus, it’s chosen in packaging beverages like Bournvita, Milo, Ovaltine, as well as for tomato puree, sardine, baked beans, canned beers and soft drinks. The high advantage of seal ability protects the packaged product from easy spoilage. Bacteria and fungi are kept at bay especially after oxygen has been driven off before sealing. And, as stated earlier, metal cans serve as processing aids. It ensures long shelf-life for the processed food.
Amongst the secondary containers, corrugated cartons and cases are second-to-none. No other packaging material provides the unique combination of product protection, stacking strength, printability, lightness and low cost. It is reckoned along with metal and plastic drums, heavy duty bags, for cement, as well as fibre boards. It is therefore, the shippers’ delight. No wonder corrugated cases were engaged in about 90 percent of all shipping containers in the 1980s.
Today in Nigeria, the packaging industry plays a great role in our economic life. Its level of sophistication is an indication of our state of industrialization. It is a necessary link between the manufacturer and the buyer/consumer. It serves useful roles in both transportation and marketing. It is one of the largest employers of labour, especially in the private sector with a workforce running into tens of thousands. As a specialised and technical service industry, a lot of money is spent on training, providing the nation with skilled manpower thereby reducing unemployment.
The present government in its determination to diversify the economy should therefore, assist the packaging industry in issuance of import license for raw materials, like low density poly propylene, kraft printing materials while encouraging backward integration to source some locally. Recycling of waste should be done to reduce environmental pollution.
Ayo Oyoze Baje